Tipton forest bill clears panel with local support

RBC I U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s (CO-03) legislation to allow greater state and local involvement in proactive wildfire prevention on federal lands cleared the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation on Thursday, April 11.
The Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act (H.R. 818) is supported by many Colorado counties and the National Association of Counties as well as state and national environmental organizations and conservation districts.
Hinsdale County Commissioner Cindy Dozier and Garfield County Commissioner John Martin testified on behalf of the bill during the hearing, speaking on the need for more proactive management to restore forests to healthy conditions.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell also testified before the panel and, in response to Tipton’s questions, acknowledged that more needs to be done to proactively manage forests rather than continuing to have to spend exponentially greater resources on suppression and wildfire cleanup efforts once it’s too late. 
Tidwell cited budget constraints and employee reductions as one of the challenges facing the Forest Service in this regard.
Tipton challenged Tidwell on this point, asking why the USFS was spending money on further land acquisition given budget constraints, instead of prioritizing funds for forest management. The Forest Service is requesting nearly $60 million in FY14 for the acquisition of new lands.
Tipton stated, “It’s a management decision. Shouldn’t we prioritize in tough economic times where those dollars are really going? And rather than asking for more land to manage, when we can’t manage the land we currently have, let’s apply those dollars to truly manage the forests we have.”
According to the Forest Service, the agency spent $296 million on hazardous fuels treatment nationwide in FY2012 while spending $1.77 billion on wildfire suppression.
Tipton’s bill would streamline hazardous fuels reduction projects and make up-front investments in forest health. It carries no cost to taxpayers and places no requirement on state and local officials to act.
“While the bark beetle outbreak and other hazardous forest health conditions have affected state and private lands, hazardous conditions are often most heavily concentrated on federal lands, where a lack of active forest management has allowed the epidemic to spread to catastrophic levels,” Tipton said.